West Brom vs. Arsenal: Player to watch – Serge Gnabry

Blog by: Woolwich 1886

Serge Gnabry celebrates after scoring a goal for Arsenal during the U21 Premier League match between Arsenal U21 and West Bromwich Albion U21 at Emirates Stadium on September 12, 2013 in London, England.  (Getty Images)

Serge Gnabry celebrates after scoring a goal for Arsenal during the U21 Premier League match vs. West Bromwich Albion U21 at Emirates Stadium on September 12, 2013 in London, England. (Getty Images)

Even before Wednesday’s cup-tie, Serge Gnabry has scored against West Brom. That’s how good he is (or can be).

I’m of course referring to the U21 match about two weeks back, when the young German unleashed a thunderous volley to put Arsenal past West Brom 1-0. It’s one thing to score against a squad of teenagers, but Gnabry has shown in his short time with the first team, that he has what it takes to play with the big boys, having tucked in nicely against Stoke on Saturday.

After a nervous start (understandable given the short notice, Gnabry having found that he would start only after Theo Walcott tore muscles in his abdomen during warm-ups), the youngster settled in quite nicely.

Think of that jolt: getting the call-up is one thing, but he probably assumed that he would be watching comfortably at least until the 70th minute or so, at which point he might get the call if the game was safely iced way.

To then find out that he would get the start, and to have that start come on the day of Mesut Ozil’s Emirates debut, must have electrified Gnabry. For him to have turned in such a calm, assured performance anyway signals that the 18-year old could be ready, not just to simply join the first team, but to make actual contributions.

Of course, with injuries to Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, we naturally turn to Gnabry to play on the wing. Instead of discussing who might rotate in among those three, Gnabry is the last man standing.

Happily, he acquitted himself quite well on Saturday, moving intelligently, making the most of his chances (save for a shot that he sent sailing into the seats), absorbing some cynical fouls (such as Robert Huth’s shoulder-block that should have drawn a booking), dropping deep to help in the build-up, and making himself an all-around good guy to have on the pitch.

This isn’t the first time that Gnabry has been totted up as a competitor with Walcott; he’s even been mentioned as an out-and-out replacement. Should Walcott continue to struggle to find his form after undergoing abdominal surgery, and should Gnabry seize the moment presented him in the Englishman’s absence, those murmurings could grow.

Rather than build up that molehill, however, let’s enjoy the idea that we could see some competition on the right flank between the two, the kind that can extract some exquisite performances from each.

You won’t get Gnabry to engage in any such discussion, as he’s widely touted as having a great attitude and ethic, the kind of player who puts his shoulder to the wheel and keeps going until the whistle blows.

Despite his youth, he’s made first-team appearances already, having made three appearances in the 2012-13 campaign – the 6-1 victory over Coventry City (almost a year ago to the day, 26 September) the infamous 1-0 loss at Norwich, and the 2-0 loss to Schalke in the Champions League group stage.

Those experiences should serve him well, even if this is “only” the League Cup. Given our recent history in this competition – crashing out to Bradford City and Birmingham City in successive years –some have fretted that facing West Brom is an ominous sign.

However, the spirit in this squad is such that it really doesn’t matter who we face at the moment. We’ve won ten road-matches in a row. Heck, we haven’t lost to West Brom in more than three years.

Sure, they’ll be throwing on a few new faces in the likes of Stéphane Sessègnon and Victor Anichebe up front, but this is a squad we really should have no trouble despatching. After all, if we can’t get past West Brom, we have no business progressing in the cup, now, do we?

Therefore, I’m looking to Gnabry to turn in another impressive performance, this time adding a goal to his résumé as we look to advance. He’s netted once against the Baggies, so here’s hoping he’ll repeat the performance on Wednesday.

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